As innovative as some of the newer devices that capture health metrics may be, applying the word “fun” to their use may be a stretch. But Cigna, in partnership with Microsoft, wants to change that with the introduction of a new digital health tool called the BioBall: a handheld, electronic orb that works with a virtual reality headset to guide users through an interactive game while measuring a couple of vital signs.
BioBall, which represents the first use of Microsoft’s HoloLens technology for health screenings, was developed as part of Cigna’s Go. Know. Take Control initiative to encourage people to learn four health numbers: blood pressure, body mass index, blood sugar and cholesterol, which Cigna cites as responsible for the majority of preventable chronic disease and healthcare costs.
To play, users first meet with a trained BioBall expert – Cigna representatives who register the users and take their blood pressure – then they step into a hologram-filled chamber of sorts and the bowling ball-sized device and a VR glasses come into play. As users try to capture images that are flashed across the HoloLens screen, the BioBall measures their pulse, BMI, movement and speed. At the end of the one-minute game, users immediately receive their health numbers on the lenses as well as an email offering suggestions on how to improve.
“With virtual and augmented reality revolutionizing the way we learn, work and play in our everyday lives - Cigna sees VR as a key way for consumers to manage personal health and wellness,” Cigna’s Chief Brand Officer Stephen Cassell told MobiHealthNews in an email. “Cigna sees BioBall as an innovative way to encourage people to engage and take control of their health."
The device won’t be making its way into homes or doctor’s offices, but will be featured at Cigna-sponsored public events throughout the United States. Most of BioBall’s public tour is still being scheduled, but Cassell said it will make an appearance at the Disneyland Marathon in September. Additionally, Cigna will also make available a portable, pop-up version of the BioBall to use at client locations for use in onsite clinics or employee events starting in April.
While Cassell couldn’t share specific details about just how BioBall could be used in other settings, say, as part of an employee wellness program, he did say that the BioBall could be customized depending on the employer’s needs, and that interested employers shared a common goal of using the workplace as venue to foster wellness and preventive care.
“Preventive care is an important part of staying healthy, but we know that unfortunately, Americans only use preventive services at about half the recommended rate, even though it's covered at 100 percent with most insurance,” Cassell said. “Through technology and other digital strategies, Cigna can make health care more fun and engaging to encourage individuals to get their checkups and potentially detect health issues early.”